Microsoft strikes deal with Tandem

Microsoft has sought to allay any concerns about Windows NT's reliability for mission-critical applications by striking a deal with fault-tolerant systems leader Tandem Computers.

The pact means that in return for a payment of more than US$30 million from Microsoft, Tandem will make Windows NT versions of its proprietary fault-tolerant middleware, including its NonStop SQL database system.

Users and analysts say the deal lends Tandem's reputation for fault tolerance to Windows NT, a server operating system gaining market momentum but still lacking the reliability and scalability that large businesses require.

At the same time, a vote of confidence from industry behemoth Microsoft gives the recently sluggish Tandem in Cupertino, California, a mind-share boost.

Christopher Brown, a leader of the San Diego Windows NT Users Group, says the Microsoft/Tandem alliance should remove doubts about NT's reliability.

"When you look at clustering technologies and the mission-critical area, [Tandem] has the market . . . , and that's probably the one area that may have made some Fortune 500 companies hesitant to make a migration to NT," says Brown, who runs Final Bit Solutions, a World Wide Web consulting business in Chula Vista, California.

Bill Honaker, president of the International Tandem Users Group, says bringing Tandem's proprietary capabilities to Windows NT would help information systems shops that use Tandem and Microsoft.

"It supports the existing Tandem customer base and gives them a growth path into an open environment," says Honaker, a systems consultant at XID Software in Euless, Texas.

Under the Microsoft/Tandem deal, Microsoft's WolfPack clustering software for Windows NT will support Tandem's ServerNet high-speed server interconnects. The first version of WolfPack is due early next year, Microsoft officials say.

The deal also calls for Tandem to build its own NT servers. Tandem officials say the Inte-based machines will be available this US summer. Prices will start at about US$30,000. Tandem will train more than 1000 of its technical support staff on NT.

Some analysts compare the Tandem pact to a deal Microsoft announced with Digital last August. That deal also included clustering technology and is expected to boost the scalability of NT servers.

Besides its clustering technology, Tandem is handing over its ServerWare, valuable middleware that has made Tandem's Himalaya servers high-performance business systems.

Microsoft New Zealand general manager Geoff Lawries says while Windows NT is currently used in banking at the retail branch level, the products resulting form this agreement should see NT make inroads into areas which require high availability such as electronic commerce and transaction processing.

Tandem New Zealand general manager Stewart Walker says the first products will ship in the next three to six months and will be ServerWare components which plug into Windows NT.

"Tandem has seen many customers looking at NT and examining its possibilities especially in banking. They see it as an opportunity to really bring down the price of delivering mission crtical applications.

"Microsoft realised that the key to going to the enterprise was they needed realiability and scalability and they saw Tandem as a key provider of these."

As a result of the alliance Tandem will beef up its support in New Zealand.

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